On the one-year anniversary of the slide that devastated Johnsons Landing, residents are still living with uncertainty, many unable to return home.
The slide that claimed four lives and destroyed numerous homes and properties continues to have an impact on the community on the east side of Kootenay Lake.
“A year later, we are still under emergency order concerning Johnsons Landing,” said Regional District of Central Kootenay chair John Kettle, expressing his continued sympathies on behalf of the regional government on Friday.
Added Andy Shadrack, Area D director, “This has been a difficult year for those property owners, residents and the families affected by this devastating tragedy and we sympathize with their losses.”
In the interest of public safety, and according to the Johnsons Landing geotechnical report released in May, an evacuation order remains in place for much of the slide area. Twelve households are at a high or very high risk of another slide.
Still, there are about a half dozen residents remaining in the area, including Kate O’Keefe.
She says the geotechnical report, giving indication as to how instable the land still is — in some spots extremely unsound and dangerous — still has people anxious and uncertain.
“It’s one of the worries of living here,” she said. “Those of us who are here are continuing to live here and our lives are some what normalized. We’re not living under a threat of immediate danger although we are cautious.”
This year’s heavy spring rains and their impact on Gar Creek had people concerned. Gar is the creek that became blocked prior to 2012 landslide.
This year, Hamill Creek and Fry Creek ended up being more of a concern than Gar, which is running as it should during this time of year, O’Keefe said.
Residents living at Johnsons Landing are few and far between. While some have trekked up to check out the creek’s condition and report to authorities, O’Keefe said they would like to see a system in place to alert them should something be amiss with the large block of debris left behind after last year’s slide.
“There is no monitoring system set up,” she said. “For us, it would be lovely to have something up there that would indicate or give us a signal if there was movement of that material, that big block that is up there. It may not move in our lifetime but it may and if it does come down, the worst case scenario would be huge.”
There is no government money for that kind of monitoring and the cost would fall to residents via a surtax.
“We would have to bear the brunt of the cost of that. Well, there are only a half a dozen of us here and we can’t afford a cost like that,” O’Keefe said.
For those who have been wiped out, costs loom even larger. Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall took compensation concerns to the Legislature Thursday. She’d like to see the provincial government work with the community on a buy out plan.
“Some residents of Johnsons Landing lost everything, but still have to pay taxes on property they may never be able to set foot on again,” she said.
Mungall directed her questions to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton who said already over $1 million had been spent at that location including nearly $600,000 in direct benefits to residents. The Liberals say no funds are available outside the Emergency Management BC program.
Said Mungall, “While the minister says that Emergency Management BC is doing everything they can, Emergency Management BC now needs leadership from this government. Will the minister do the right thing and work with the community on a buyout plan?”
Mungall brought attention to governments in Alberta and Manitoba who responded to residents’ needs after flooding. And with the support of party leader Adrian Dix, the NDP took the Liberals to task for not helping Johnsons Landing slide victims despite agreeing to full buyout of homeowners affected by a 2005 landslide in North Vancouver.
“Can the Minister of Justice tell this House why the liberal approach that has been used in the past is not being applied to the residents of Johnsons Landing, so devastated by this situation?” asked Dix in the legislature.
RDCK’s Kettle calls the coordinated effort after the slide “nothing short of spectacular.”
“Not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome of this situation,” he said. “It may require a change in legislation to address situations like this in the future. That being said, we continue to treat this horrible event with the respect and reverence it demands.”
Back on the mountainside at Johnsons Landing, O’Keefe said “it gets easier over time.”
“There are big issues we are still dealing with,” she said. “But we know it’s time to get on with our lives, grow our gardens and do the other things we do.”
As more devastation by natural disasters occurred in the Kootenays and beyond this spring and summer, she knows public attention has been drawn away from her neighbourhood despite people still in need there.
“Things like this don’t go away very quickly,” she said.
The RDCK is in the process of examining the recommendations of the Johnsons Landing Geotechnical Report released in May and will make implementation recommendations in the coming months.